So…What actually defines a hero? A dictionary definition would say that a hero is either; A person, typically a man, who is admired for courage or noble qualities. Or the chief male character in a book, play, or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities. But that doesn’t really encapsulate what a hero is supposed to be. Just being admired for being courageous and noble doesn’t make someone a hero. A hero is somebody who simply does what is right, right? The reason I pose this question is because Man of Steel is due for release soon and Superman is the “true” hero. With this in mind I’ve decided to explore the very nature of Superman and the nature of heroes as a whole.
The story of Kal-El is a relatively simple one. The last son of a dying planet, set free by his father so he may have a chance to live. Landing on a small farm in Kansas Kal-El is raised by a farmer and his wife and instilled with a strong moral compass.
You can look at Superman’s popularity through the scope of classic story telling. What I mean by this is that the tale of Superman is a tale we can trace back to the Egyptians and the tale of Horus. An outsider from another realm, sent to earth as a saviour, performs miracles and leads the people. Before being betrayed and killed; only to rise once more. Or even relate to the story of the Christian Messiah (which is pretty much the same, give or take a few details). Whilst the story of Superman is not identical to the story of Christ it bares much resemblance. Superman is an alien sent from his planet just before its destruction. Whereas Jesus was the son of God gifted to a woman and the planet as a whole. Superman’s powers are caused by exposure to earths yellow sun, but Jesus’ miracles are a result of having the blood of the gods. Both men were tested, Jesus by the Devil in the desert and Superman by his rouges gallery. Both men were also killed only to be resurrected. The point I’m making is not a direct attack on the beliefs of Christians. The point I’m making is the the story of Jesus is one taught across the whole western world. With this in mind the similarities make the story of Superman more relatable and therefore more popular in the western world.
Superman’s popularity can also be observed thorough his personification of the true hero. What I mean is that Superman is black and white. He is the good guy, and does the right thing. Unlike how most are written nowadays Superman rarely deviates from his code of honour; with the man of steel you know what you are getting. He has all the powers, the flight, laser vision, strength, freeze breath ect. Superman is simply what we think of when talking about superheroes. Furthermore he is everything we all long to be. He is a socially awkward outsider, with a mundane job, something that most of us can relate to. But behind that he is the all-powerful saviour of the planet; almost a god among us. He leads a life we all dream we could, through our world of mediocrity. He’s relatable in a totally unrelatable way. He is a non human who longs to be human. This means we have something he wants, and he has something we want. This creates a bond between the reader and the character.
Another way to look at it, is that Superman was the first superhero to be accepted by the public. He became the reference point for all other heroes to be measured against. He was the first to cross media, making it to radio, silver screen and small screen. He even managed to appeal to your non classic superhero fans (with the new adventures of Superman). Superman entered our world and we accepted him. Because he was written well, we came to feel for the character. And with that we came to accept the genre as a whole.
To sum all of this up Superman’s popularity is down to many things. He’s relatable, powerful, inspirational, and above all else just great fun. With the coming release of man of steel we will most likely see another boom in the popularity of Superman. And that can only be a good thing.
By Matt Husselbury.
(Writers note: In the blog I didn’t really go into any depth on story arcs, that’s partly because I was looking at the character as a whole and partly because I didn’t want to spoil then for people who may not have seen them. )